Steve said, “I don’t wanna see ‘em. They’re @$$#*!&$.”
Actually, some of them were. But, most weren’t. Most were just doing their jobs, if somewhat less than brilliantly. There were stars among them, however. Just as in other areas of life, some record promotion people were downright stupid. Most were average-to-normal. And, a few were brilliant-to-ingenious. It ran along a gradient scale.
Steve Woods, our 1580 KDAY afternoon drive personality and Music Director, was having a bad hair day and did not care to endure the stupid contingent of the promo brigade. While I sympathized with his emotional dilemma, being at the end of his tether and all, as Program Director I had to insist;
“Woods, these guys are just doing their jobs. And, their jobs include seeing us on record day and presenting their product. Stop and think about it; most of them are not @$$#*!&$. Now, please go upstairs and see them. And, be nice.”
Woods was inherently nice. He calmed down, went upstairs and did his duty as Music Director.
In music radio, promo guys were an indispensible part of the scene. They kept program and music directors and jocks updated as to what was happening in their particular part of the music universe.
As Gary Price, our General Manager, said to me, “It’s their job to make you like them.” That was true. If you don’t like the salesman, you’ll be far less inclined to accept the product. The smarter people among them – there were promo women, too – knew that. Being likeable was part of the turf. This did not entail being a doormat, which wouldn’t make a person likeable.
Certain promo people had plenty of phrases likely to induce eye-rolls from radio guys. Among them:
“If you don’t play it, it won’t be a hit.”
Truth: If we didn’t play it and it didn’t become a hit, it wasn’t a hit in the first place. Radio – including KDAY – was “forced” onto more records than I care to count. The marketplace would occasionally demand it.
“How will you know if it’s a hit or not if you don’t play it?”
Right. Let’s experiment with my full-time, major-market radio station functioning as your research tool. That’s gonna happen.
“Don’t you want to play good music?”
Well, that would be nice, but I really want to play hit music, which, more often than not, is the same music. Y’know; music that sustains listener interest. Sometimes I even add music that I hate just because those pesky listeners want it.
“Man, if you don’t add it, they’re gonna fire me!”
Do I have to hear that one every week?
On the other hand, there were promo guys who were an absolute pleasure to deal with. One, who was widely acknowledged as second-to-none in the promo field, showed up unannounced in our lobby one day. I was apologetic for not being able to see him that instant! I knew that if he appeared spontaneously on a non-record day, I must be missing something and I wanted to hear about it. I don’t recall the particular emergency at this writing, but whatever he told me made sense. I did as he suggested and he turned out, not surprisingly, to be right. Again.
This was a guy who had once or twice advised that I play a record from another label (he definitely promoted his own product, of course) because he knew that we should; that it would be to our programming advantage. I did and it was.
That was the key that the smarter guys totally got: Help me to be a winner – to be a successful radio programmer – and you’ll stand to gain. I’ll listen to you. You won’t be subject to the rules, which are designed to hold down the noise. If you are not part of the noise, you’ll be subject to very few rules, if any.
Dazzling me with brilliance wouldn’t hurt. The same man referred to above once called me at 4 in the afternoon to thank me for increasing rotation on one of his label’s priority songs of the time. I had not announced the upgrade as there was no reason to. Jon Badeaux, our Music Director in my second PDship at KDAY, and I had adjusted rotational categories about ten that morning. He, Promo Man Extraordinaire, had simply listened and noticed. In my decades of experience, he’s the only one who ever did that.
There were other really smart and creative promo people. But, let’s get to the fun stuff:
These guys had promo budgets. Hence, radio jocks and PDs attended concerts, rode in limousines, and ate and drank (often too much) like royalty. That was the L.A. scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In later years, radio broadcast companies attempted to impose stringent rules that we simply didn’t have to contend with. This, in order to avoid accusations of payola-taking. Frankly, it’s absurd to consider that a lunch or a dinner, be it ever so lavish, would induce a major-market radio exec to play a record on-air. Influence? Of course. All the above was meant to influence. Casual conversation and ads in trade publications influence.
Above all, life-long friendships were formed as we – radio and record people – were part of the same general community. We shared a common language and did many of the same things together.
In a few weeks, I’ll be spend a day with dozens of my old friends in the biz. We’ll talk that stuff, laugh a lot and have a memorable time with the other members of the “club”; the people who know what we feel and who we really are as individuals. We’ll discuss current projects and future plans. I look forward to this.
We keep dreaming. And, doing.
(Follow me on Twitter @jjsradioblog.)